Federal Court Holds Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work 30-day Revocation Provision Unconstitutional

Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law provides employees the ability to choose as to whether they want to become or remain members of a labor union. Intertwined with that decision is an employee’s right to decide not to pay union dues. In order for an employee to effectively exercise his or her right not to be a member of a union without coercion or duress is the ability to also timely revoke their dues check-off authorizations so they are not committed to pay union dues when they no longer want to be a member of the union.

Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law was designed to address this issue by prohibiting any dues checkoff authorizations unless such authorizations are revocable upon 30 days’ written notice by an employee. This means, under Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law, that an employee can terminate a dues checkoff authorization upon 30 days’ written notice and, moreover, a labor union cannot bind an employee to a period of more than 30 days in which to exercise that right. However, this provision under Wisconsin law runs contrary to the federal Labor Management Relation Act (29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(4)) which permits an employee’s authorization for dues check-off to be effective for a period of up to one year or up until the termination date of the applicable collective bargaining agreement, whichever occurs sooner.

Recently, a federal district court in Wisconsin addressed this conflict between the two laws and found that the 30-day revocation provision for dues checkoff authorizations under Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law to be preempted by the federal Labor Management Relation Act (29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(4)), and, as a result, unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The federal district court premised its holding on a finding that a state law limiting the irrevocability of dues checkoff agreements to 30 days directly conflicts with the federal law permitting unions to bargain for longer periods of irrevocability. The federal district court further held that the fact that this provision was made part of Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law does not exempt it from federal preemption within the § 14(b) exception to federal preemption.

The federal district court’s decision means that a dues check-off authorization that is not revocable for more than one year is lawful and enforceable under 29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(4) despite Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law to the contrary limiting the irrevocability of such authorizations.

The significance of this decision is that labor unions can and will bind employees to continue to pay union dues for up to a year before they can exercise their right to revoke their dues check-off authorization (and usually within a tight revocation window) even though the employee may have decided they no longer want to remain a member of the union. As a result, this federal court decision will have a chilling effect upon employees’ right to decide as to whether they want to remain a member of a labor union when they will be compelled by the same union they want to disassociate themselves from into continuing to pay union dues – exactly what labor wanted to accomplish in commencing the lawsuit challenging this provision of Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law.

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